I have long had an interest in how those in other professions do the particular voodoo they do, especially if they do it well.
When Julie was in marketing, I was impressed with the technology and methodology of completing telephone surveys. Duke of Derm still tutors me on how grants are granted, promotions in academia achieved, and departmental budgets are doubled or slashed in order to achieve specific, albeit seldom articulated, goals.
Other than viewing the multitude of music videos set in a studio,1 the occasional scene from a movie or TV show showing musicians at work,2 and documentaries about a singer or a group, which typically focus only on that single moment of triumph in the studio, I am naive to the means by which songs are recorded in a studio.
Consequently, I found listening to a set of outtakes from the making of Frank Sinatra’s “I Remember Bobby” album,3 entertaining and instructive.
In the making of this album, Sinatra seems obsessed with getting every note on every song just right, often insisting on multiple takes of short portions of a song.
I was especially taken by a comment he made during the studio rehearsal of “Without A Song” that so epitomized his approach that it has become the focus of this post.
To prevent the orchestra from overwhelming the lyrics, Sinatra first requests that the trumpets play softer, but then elaborates,
I don’t particularly want to hear it –
I want to feel it at this point of the arrangement.
That phrase, in combination with the ensuing assurance, “We’re going to get to hear them later,” seems to me a masterful and economic means of explaining the sense of what he wanted without playing the tyrant or condescending to his musicians.
The 55 second segment available below begins about a minute into the recording session and includes the referenced comment and further exchanges between Sinatra and the musicians.
- Does making a music video about making a music video seem like cheating to anyone else? [↩]
- TV and cinematic representations of studio work seem to skew toward one of three plots: (1) The studio manager hears the musicians “just foolin’ around,” flips the “record” switch, and thus creates the group’s breakthrough hit, (2) A single key element is changed (e.g., a singer added or subtracted from the mix, the tempo is dramatically altered, etc) and a bland rendition becomes something unique and appealing, or (3) The unknown singer steps to the mike and within six bars has the the jaded sidemen and technical crew exchanging looks of admiration and amazement. [↩]
- I Remember Bobby (Reprise 1981) is Sinatra’s tribute to Tommy Dorsey, the bandleader who helped make him a star [↩]